Picbod 5 | The Empowered Portrait

Through the first four workshops you have explored the power relationship between photographer and subject, starting with yourself before looking at someone close to you and a stranger. You should now apply your skills garnered through these and the technical workshops to assist either a stranger or someone you already know* to make their own portrait. 
You should not take charge of the photographic conversation but should empower the ‘subject’ in being able to make their own pre-visualization and chosen representation, a reality. 

*You should not work with someone who has previous photographic experience

My housemate Daniel is very enthusiastic with photography. He always mentions about exhibitions on show or talk about photographers he discovered. Before summer he asked me to help him get a cheap, but good, compact camera. I did some research in this chaotic market of compacts and recommended him about 5 models, with their pros and cons. I remember explaining him the difference between f/2 and f/5.6 written on the ring of the lenses, why one is better than the other. Most important though was that he wanted to know how I made these decisions.
Since then Daniel has been taking his camera absolutely everywhere. He is impressed by the bright colours its night mode outputs, the motion blur, the unexpected. Many times though he experiences the downside of every camera. It is not possible to document accurately what you see through your eyes. An issue we all deal sometimes and the best thing to do, I suggested, is to let those moments for your eyes only…

Daniel, self-portrait
This is the first assisted self-portrait of Daniel. It wasn’t in his edit, it’s part of my selection.

I explained him the task and he was more than happy to participate. He just loved the idea of using the professional camera. Two days later, a fine morning, we started the assisted self-portrait task. I brought back home a Nikon D700 and the Mamiya RB67. For educational reasons I made use of my own 35mm film cameras to show him how the mechanical parts work.

By chance, the previous day I was an assistant to George Rippon’s intro to film photography. It really helped me refresh ways to explain all the technical bits. We started the tutorial by discussing the three variables of a camera system. The Aperture, Shutter Speed and ISO. I tried to keep things simple. The correlation of the aperture with depth of field was something he and I struggled with. Apart from the fact that it was difficult for me in the when in his place, I had only 2 hours available and rushed it. I have promised him, when the term ends that we will learn the RB67 and in depth analysis and practice of techniques.

We only used in practice the D700, for the advantages of a digital system while learning, but I didn’t discourage chimping. As I said we didn’t had much time. Even though chimping doesn’t help previsualize your subject and composition, Daniel did pre-visualize to an extent.
I taught him where the controls for the shutter speed, aperture, ISO, the zoom and focus were located on the camera. Now that I think back, I should have used a prime lens. The more you take away from your camera system the the better. I also model for him so he can compose and focus in real time. Apart from that, every decision was his.

He didn’t like the spot against the window, because the light was flooding behind the subject and eventually as you compensate, it gets silhouetted. In order to compensate externally he turned the lights on but tungsten, was casting orange on the skin. I didn’t explain him what White Balance is because of the time limit.

He placed me on the opposite side, taking advantage of the daylight coming through the window to light me. We have a big world map on the wall and this would serve as the background of the photograph. While testing the settings he noticed the map was reflecting light and the detail was lost. The map-to-subject distance helped Daniel understand depth of field. He wanted the writing to be visible and only understood this when he experimented with aperture values.

In order to achieve this he had to stop down from f/2.8 all to f/13, keep a long exposure time, thus increasing motion blur. He seemed happy with the results and we swapped. I acted as his remote control and pressed the shutter when he said. Daniel took several photographs of himself, but because of the motion blur he chose only a couple of them.  I think next time he will have a better understanding of the elements involved. Note that I have white balanced some portraits displayed to compensate the extreme orange casts from tungsten lights. Below, his selection.

#Picbod 3 | Nude and Naked

Building on the session workshops you should explore notions of Nude and Naked through your work. You should make at least one study of yourself and another of someone else. You will need to bring your experiences from task one and two to bear as you explore the dynamics of vulnerability vis a vis yourself, the subject and ultimately the viewer.

You should spend time observing the context for your subject. You should look for and work with the different types of light, tone and colour, both in terms of your location context and the effects they have on your subject and the subsequent photographic artefact.

Consider Paul Wright’s words on life drawing :
“Look at the subject away from the camera – soak up your subject”, “look for the lines that denote weight and gesture”, “consider echoes of movement in a gesture – the image can be messy and doesn’t have to be ‘picture-perfect’”.

A week past since Matt set the task and I haven’t had any inspiration. Nude and Naked is certainly a very interesting theme to explore, though I find myself struggling within the constraints of perfection and time. I like to produce perfect images; perfect in quite a few aspects. My control over photography can be painfully great! I consider composition one of the most important elements in my photographs. There should always be an ethereal connection between the elements in a photograph. Colours or shades of grey are the other most important element. I cannot say much about this because I don’t have a certain appreciation of specifics, they are more abstract. These sort of limits obviously don’t let me create what I want within a week.

The night before the lecture I booked a new lens. It was a Canon 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 which made me very excited as it coincided with a clear sky. I have been wanting to photograph the moon for a couple of years now. I tried in the past with the 70-200mm f/4 but it wasn’t great. I spent about an hour, on the roof of a shed, making photographs and video of the moon rising.

A bit earlier I experimented with the lens’s big hood in a smaller lens of the same line; a 24-105mm f/4. The results were great! The hood was covering most of the sensor area (about 10/21MP), thus creating a perfect circle vignette effect.

At the end the day, I sat on desk, in front of the computer and went through the photographs. Just before I go to bed I had an idea. I combined bit of both and myself.

Self portrait, in my underwear sitting in front of my computer, composite with the moon, picbod

The inspiration behind this composite is the circle. My mind that day was more on the moon than the nude task. After reflecting on it, I found many meanings behind the particular shape. One strong connection I made was with my first response in picbod. The idea of someone observing from above our actions. As Matt Johnston commented “The omnipresent eye watches over the omnipresent screen”. In this case, the place of the omnipresent eye takes the moon.

Concerning the self portrait; This is the state you will find me almost every night just before I go to bed. Sitting in my underwear, because I decided to sleep, but just before I actually lie down I need to check again, I need to have a quick look at the screen. Maybe something changed, maybe I didn’t get enough satisfaction from the information-gathering today. Hooked up on the network, the same way an addict on drugs.

I am challenging my way of living, which of course doesn’t vary a lot from others. Our life is dramatically changing and my observations suggest, it takes time to notice the downside, through this great noise.

#Picbod Google+ Community

#Picbod 1 | The Self Portrait

In the age of New Media a self-portrait is probably considered a very common theme to photograph. The majority of people using the internet have probably engaged with some kind of digital representation of their selves. A representation that is a creation of our imagination and the same time real.

The web is cluttering with profile pictures that look similar as if they adhere to certain rules. Angle, lighting, composition and most distinct; resolution. The amount of pixels is relatively low, as many used their mobile phone’s camera, that gives a noisy and under-saturated look. On top of that, every platform resizes and re-encodes the files uploaded and places them in equally shaped boxes, on the exact same location.

It seems that our digital representation lacks of creative freedom, full of constraints, thus making us look the same.
The questions I asked are, how can I represent myself and how can I do it differently.

The following is the first task of the online photography class #picbod along with my response.  You can find more information about the class or get involved at picbod.org and in the Google+ community where it currently leaves.

Pre-visualize and produce a self portrait [using only available light*] unrestricted in theme and technique yet still supplying a message to the viewer. You should spend time first understanding what it is you wish to convey before then looking at the composition and mechanics of the image and finally production.

* While you are required to use only available light you can still shape and adjust this light as you see fit. Street lights, laptops, computers and televisions can all be employed.

self portrait, sitting in front of two computers, point of view above, picbod

This is me in front of my two computers, situated in the room I live in, where 95% of the time I spend looks like this. Since I came to England I evolved this awkward relation with the computer. In the beginning I was spending more time as I new less people than today.

After the first year I was having thoughts whether this was normal and if other people are like this. I realized that the source was not the machine but the network, plainly the World Wide Web.

After thinking on a personal level I elevated my thoughts in a global scale and since then it’s a great concern of mine. What is changing? How? Is it right or wrong? What are the disadvantages? We tend to see the advantages in new technologies and fail to see if everyone is keeping up.

Though, one thing I have answered is that we are going through a great change in terms of how people think and act; the human evolution. What affirms my answer is that every person born from now on will grow hooked up on the network, a way of living, distant to the psychical interaction we were once used to.